DMA Program Information

The following general information and policies apply to all Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) students in the Bienen School of Music.

Degree Requirements Top

The DMA degree requires the satisfactory completion of a minimum number of units of graduate credit, as specified for each program. Most 300- to 500-level courses within the Bienen School of Music are acceptable for degree credit. No classes below the 300-level may be counted toward the degree.

See Requirements by Program:

Piano Performance
Piano Performance and Pedagogy
String Performance
Voice and Opera Performance
Wind and Percussion Performance

Course of Study Top

Students must complete all degree requirements for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree by the spring of their seventh year after matriculation. In exceptional cases, when a student has already established candidacy for the degree, a petition for a one-year extension (until August 31 of the eighth year) may be considered. The student requesting an extension should submit a petition to the Director of Graduate Studies for Performance, and the Assistant Dean for Admission, Financial Aid, and Graduate Services, along with a letter of support for the extension from their major advisor. The student petition should outline both the reasons for the extension, and a specific plan to complete all requirements within the extension period.

Download DMA Timeline


The DMA requires two years of full-time study with at least three consecutive quarters of registration. Because of the limitation of available courses, summer registrations are generally not accepted as part of the residency requirement. All coursework must be completed prior to continuation, including all required courses and removal of any incomplete coursework grades.

Transfer of Credits

Students accepted into the Doctor of Musical Arts program may petition to have a maximum of three Northwestern units of doctoral credit accepted from another institution. Credits may be transferred from music academic subjects only; credit for applied study is not transferable. The petition should be submitted to the Assistant Director of Graduate Services and Financial Aid for evaluation and approval, and must be accompanied by a transcript and description of courses.

Progress Review Top

The Assistant Director of Graduate Studies reviews each DMA student for satisfactory progress at the conclusion of the first year of study. Student progress is evaluated based on the successful completion of coursework, including writing competency, success in applied study and recital presentation, and progress toward degree completion.

Under extreme circumstances, students may be dismissed from the program of study should their work be well below expectations at the conclusion of the first year of study.

Continuation Top

Following the completion of required courses and satisfying all incomplete grades, DMA students enter continuation. The Assistant Director registers each DMA student for continuation (MUSIC 507 – 521). Registration for continuation occurs on a quarterly basis, excluding summer quarter, and continues until the completion of the degree. Continuation ensures students maintain an active status, allowing them to defer all federal loans, use university services (library, concert hall, sports center, etc.), have access to their committee members, and maintain eligibility for student health insurance.

Student Responsibilities for Continuation

During continuation, students must: 

  1. Clear any registration holds prior to the start of the quarter.
  2. Pay continuation registration fees by the billing deadline.
  3. Maintain health insurance as required by all degree-seeking students at Northwestern University. Students may enroll in NU-SHIP, the student health insurance plan, or provide proof of comparable health insurance coverage. For additional information and questions about health insurance, please contact the Student Health Insurance Office.

Advisory Committee Top

Each DMA student must form an advisory committee prior to attempting Part One of the qualifying exams. The committee consists of two to three faculty members, and is constituted as follows:

  • Major Advisor: The student’s Major Advisor, typically the student’s applied teacher, functions as the chair of the committee, and is selected at the beginning of the DMA student’s residency. The Major Advisor tracks the student’s progress towards the degree, and provides guidance and feedback on course selection, recital presentation procedures, the qualifying exam process, and the definition of appropriate topics for the final project.
  • Program Member: A faculty member from the student’s program. This member is typically either the student’s applied teacher (if the applied teacher is not the Major Advisor), or another faculty member from the same program. This member serves as a reader, and provides guidance and feedback, on the prospectus and final document, attends the final defense, and attends all recitals.
  • Music Studies Member: If a student is approved for the Final Research Document or Lecture Recital/Performance Document, the DMA committee requires three members. The third faculty member must be from the Music Studies Department, and is typically a faculty member with whom the student has taken academic courses, and/or one who has expertise in the area of the student’s intended research. This member serves as a reader, and provides guidance and feedback, on the prospectus and final document, attends the final defense, and attends all recitals.

Admission to Candidacy Top

Students must achieve candidacy by the spring of the fourth year of study. Failure to achieve candidacy by the spring of the fourth year of registration indicates unsatisfactory progress towards the degree, and requires the student’s record to be brought to the Director of Graduate Studies for probationary status or possible dismissal. Further, failure to demonstrate satisfactory academic progress may trigger federal financial aid withdrawal or penalties.

In all programs, candidacy is established by:

Application for Degree Top

Students anticipating completing all degree requirements must submit the Petition to Graduate form by a date specified by the Assistant Director of Graduate Studies. Students completing their degree program in summer, fall, or winter quarter are eligible to participate in the following year’s June commencement and convocation exercises.

Petition to Graduate Form